HC Deb 16 May 1845 vol 80 cc436-9

On the Question, that the Speaker do leave the Chair to go into a Committee of Supply,

Mr. Trelawny

was sorry to be compelled to interrupt for a short time the progress of the financial business of the country; and he certainly would not have done so, had he not felt bound to bring under the consideration of the House a case of great hardship, arising out of the operation of the laws for the protection of the Revenue, as they were called; but which might, perhaps, be more correctly described as laws for the oppression of individuals and the discouragement of commerce. He had not the least desire to find fault with the conduct of the department under whose cognizance such matters lay. It was extremely probable that the hardship of which he had to complain was to be ascribed rather to the state of the law, than to the conduct of any portion of the Executive. It might, then, be inquired why he brought the matter before the House at all. He could only say, that he did it simply in order that the rule under which such proceedings as he had to complain of occurred, might be thoroughly known and understood by the public, who might not run similar risks of pecuniary loss; and also, that the great inconvenience which such rules entail, might receive such a practical illustration as would conduce to an early alteration in the rules themselves. He would at once proceed to state briefly the grievance of which he had to complain. Mr. John Found was the owner of a ship called the Velocity. Having fallen into difficulties, he was compelled to mortgage it. The mortgagee being desirous of obtaining payment of the money he had advanced, Found was in danger of losing his means of livelihood, as well as those of a sister's family whom he maintained. Under these circumstances, a Mr. Seccombe induced his brother, a highly respectable person, Mr. John Seccombe by name, to advance the requisite sum to save Found from his difficulty. He (Mr. Trelawny) firmly believed that Mr. Seccombe took this step from motives of pure charity—to rescue an unfortunate and industrious person from impending ruin. The amount advanced was 234l. In the meanwhile, Found fell sick, and, finding it absolutely necessary to keep his ship in employment, he entrusted her for a time to his brother, Christopher Found. This person, unfortunately, was tempted to take in some brandy from a smuggler at sea, which was concealed under a cargo of coals. The result was, the seizure and sale of the vessel, and a consequent loss of considerable amount to a highly deserving and wholly innocent party. He was well aware he should be told, why did not people take more care? It would be said, was the Revenue to suffer because individuals advance their money on bad security? But to this it might be replied, is every person lending money on such security to sail in the ship, in order to exercise surveillance on the conduct of every sailor on board—to search every minute cranny, in order to see whether a roll of tobacco or a pint of spirits was concealed within it? Or, if this were absurd, is no property to be advanced on the security of ships? Were they to be, as it were, taken out of commerce? Were people to be discouraged from embarking money in the building of ships by the consideration that, in a case of temporary embarrassment, no money could be safely raised upon them? It had been the professed policy of this country to favour shipping. This had been the object of the navigation laws; and yet, in this instance, the very opposite was the effect. It is not merely of the direct effects of these revenue laws that complaint was made; but the indirect effects. Thus, the Corn laws, first, directly enhance the cost of the article, by excluding foreign corn; but, secondly, they enhance cost indirectly, by rendering the protected interest indolent, destitute of energy and resource. Thus, too, with the revenue laws. Not only was the cost of the commodities affected largely increased, but individuals were sadly oppressed; and the machinery of production unnecessarily hampered and restricted. In short, it came to this, that far more money was wasted by restricting commerce, than ever came into the coffers of the State. What was the annual charge for the purpose of preventing smuggling? In the Tobacco Duties Report, it was stated, that sixty-six cruisers were employed, and 6,174 men—enough men for five or six line of battle ships;—and all at a cost of 512,168l. a year. And yet it was also stated, that considerably above twenty millions of pounds of tobacco were annually smuggled, to the absolute ruin of the fair trader. He (Mr. Trelawny), in conclusion, could not help expressing his anxious hope that the Government would give this subject their earliest attention; if they could not find it consistent with their duty to give redress in the particular case of which complaint was made.

Mr. Cardwell

said, that he deemed it right to say a few words as to the facts of the case. In the month of October last, the vessel to which the hon. Member referred, the Velocity, was seized and brought into Plymouth harbour; the circumstance which led to that seizure was, that a quantity of contraband goods, namely, French brandy, was found concealed under the cargo of coals. Two custom-house officers, who were placed in charge of the vessel, were forcibly seized by the parties on board, and tied fast in the cabin, and the goods were landed in spite of them. The vessel under these circumstances was forfeited. It was true, that in this instance the petitioner, whose case the hon. Member had brought forward, was merely the mortgagee, and not the owner; and probably had no participation in the guilt of the transaction. The law recognised no distinction; and indeed if it did, it must be evident that the Revenue would be without adequate protection. He much regretted that an innocent individual should suffer; but in the present instance it could not be avoided without making a dangerous precedent.